More and more backpackers are switching from sleeping bags to backpacking quilts because they’re lighter weight, more compressible, and more comfortable, especially for side sleepers. While top quilts have always been popular with the hammock crowd because they’re easier to use in the confined space of a hammock, they’re also a great sleeping system option for ground sleepers, when coupled with a sleeping pad. Backpacking quilts are ideal for summer and warm weather since they’re so easy to vent if you’re too hot. But in freezing temperatures, starting at 30 degrees and below, most backpackers still prefer a sleeping bag because the wraparound fabric is less drafty.
Here are our choices for the top 10 best backpacking quilts based on price, insulation, temperature rating, weight, features, versatility, sizing, and availability (see below for detailed explanations of each criteria.) Most of these quilts are made and sold by so-called cottage manufacturers, which range in size from one-man shops to medium-sized businesses that employee dozens of people. All of them produce very high quality products that are significantly lighter weight and better performing than the quilts produced by mass-market gear companies like ENO, Kammock, Sea-to-Summit, or NEMO.
The advantage of buying a custom or semi-custom-made quilt from a cottage manufacturer is that you can personalize it with added features, higher quality/lighter weight insulation, or custom fabric colors. An increasing number of quilt makers also offer budget quilts made with a limited set of options that are much less expensive and often available immediately. These are a great option if you’re trying a backpacking quilt for the first time and overwhelmed by the customization choices available.
1. Katabatic Gear Flex Quilt
2. MassDrop x Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt
3. Hammock Gear Burrow Econ Quilt
4. Loco Libre Ghost Pepper Quilt
5. UGQ Outdoor Bandit Top Quilt
6. Jacks ‘R’ Better Sierra Sniveller Top Quilt
7. Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt
8. Mountain Laurel Designs Spirit Quilt
9. Nunatak Arc UL Quilt
10. Zpacks Solo Quilt
Backpacking Quilt Selection Criteria
Here is a list of factors to consider when selecting an ultralight backpacking quilt.
INSULATION: High quality goose and duck down with fill powers of 800, 850, 900, and 950 provide excellent insulation by weight and are widely preferred by backpackers because they’re so lightweight. In addition to excellent compressibility, quilts insulated with down will last for decades of use if properly cared for. Some manufacturers only offer down that’s been treated with a water-repellent coating, while others prefer to offer it unadulterated. Down is naturally water-resistant so the jury is still out on whether “treated” down lasts as long and insulates as well in the real world vs. a testing lab. Regardless, with a little care and common sense you can keep a down quilt dry by carrying it in a waterproof stuff stack, picking good campsites that don’t flood in rain, and airing it out occasionally in the sun.
TEMPERATURE RATINGS: The introduction of standardized sleeping bag temperature ratings by the outdoor industry substantially improved their reliability. Many manufacturers had overstated their temperature ratings by as much as 10 degrees before that standard was introduced. No such testing standard exists for backpacking quilts, so you’re forced to rely on their reputation and customer reviews. When buying a backpacking quilt, the current rule of thumb is to purchase one rated for 10 degrees below your needs to ensure you’ll be warm enough. There is enormous incentive for ultralight quilt makers to quote low gear weights, so read their customer reviews carefully. Women may want to add 15-20 degrees of insulation because they sleep colder than men due to lower body mass. No one makes women’s specific quilts yet, although there is an obvious need for them.
WEIGHT: While gear weight is important, be careful not to sacrifice your comfort by selecting a quilt that won’t keep you warm in the conditions you need it to. In fact, insulation is usually the lightest weight component of a quilt, where the bulk of its weight comes primarily from the fabric used to make it. When choosing fabrics, consider their breathability and whether they have a DWR coating, which can be important if the foot of your quilt gets wet regularly If you plan on using your quilt heavily, consider getting a heavier inner shell fabric as this is where the greatest wear and tear occurs over the long-term.
FEATURES: Most ultralight backpacking quilts are pretty similar when it comes right down to it. But there’s something unique about each of manufacturer’s quilts listed above that improves their performance in a unique way. For example: the use of continuous or chevron-shaped baffles, draft collars, zoned insulation, closed foot-boxes and external snaps for quilt layering, all improve cold weather performance. A strapless pad attachment system is far more convenient and comfortable than ones that rely on straps, while a head-hole enables multi-use as a garment. Look for these differentiators because they can have a profound influence on your backpacking experience.
VERSATILITY: Some backpacking quilts can be used in a wider variety of ways than others, which may be an important factor based on the way you like to backpack. For example, quilts that can be fully unzipped can be used as a blanket in a wider range of temperatures that those with closed foot boxes. Wider width quilts can be used for hammocks and ground sleeping, something to consider if you plan on doing both.
SIZING: When sizing a quilt, it’s important to understand whether the length includes the foot-box or not, since several inches of fabric are lost when forming a foot box. Quilt makers often provide recommended heights for users when quoting sizes, so look for these. Hammock users can usually get by with narrower quilts than ground sleepers, because they use underquilts which wrap around their sides and insulate them. Ground sleepers need the extra fabric and insulation to tuck under their sides to prevent drafts.
AVAILABILITY: Many of the quilt makers who specialize in highly customized quilts often have very long backorder times (2 months or more) during periods of high demand. If you need a quilt and can’t wait, you’re probably better off buying a less customized, off-the-shelf model. This one factor, more than any other, can often determine which quilt you select.
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